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Pope Francis, in Romania, Warns of Populism’s Dangers

In Bucharest, in a quiet square near urbane coffee shops, the city’s Holocaust memorial notes that 25,000 Roma were deported alongside hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout Romanian occupied territory. An estimated 11,000 Roma were killed.

In May, after neo-fascists in Rome violently protested Roma families who had been given spots in Italian public housing, Francis invited 500 Roma to meet him at the Vatican. He told them that despite the government’s attitude, they were “not second-class citizens” and that they had his respect.

On Sunday the pope will travel to Blaj, in Transylvania, where he will meet representatives of the Roma community, a clear effort to amplify his concern for their plight.

“A message, particularly from the pope, on the Roma community of Blaj, or anywhere, it doesn’t matter, will be very helpful for us,” said Damian Draghici, a renowned Roma musician who became a counselor to the Romanian government on Roma affairs and was later elected to the European Parliament.

On the eve of the pope’s arrival in Bucharest, Mr. Draghici walked around a Roma community on the outskirts of Bucharest. As dogs barked and traditional Roma music emanated from behind wooden walls, he greeted families living in warrens of tiny rooms padded with mattresses, amid hallways cluttered with stacked pots, plastic tubs of water for laundry and worn soccer balls. Plywood and exposed wires hung from the ceiling.

Some residents knew the pope was coming, and were happy.

Mr. Draghici said Francis served as a counterweight to Europe’s populists, including Mr. Salvini and Ms. Le Pen, whom he used to debate in the European Parliament. He said he came to regret engaging with them on the plight of his people, so he stopped.

“It’s better for them because it gets them more attention,” he said, adding that they brought up the Roma situation only when they were trying to attract votes. For the populists, he said, “you can’t go wrong with the Roma.”

News credit : Nytimes